How to Write for Change
Sometimes, what we write has the power to change things. Minds, patterns, habits. Lifestyles, lives entirely.
That’s the kind of writing I’m seeking and that’s the kind of writing I hope to one day create. But before I can get there, I need to do a whole lot of work behind the scenes.
In Catalyst: Speaking, Writing and Leading for Social Evolution, Sasha Allenby talks about the power of processing pain before sharing it. She argues that, if we want to be leaders, we need to take responsibility for what we’re putting out into the world. We need to consider how what we’re sharing will land with our audience.
This is distinctly different from the way we share for personal reasons. When I post a picture of my dog on Instagram doing something ridiculously adorable, I’m not thinking about making a significant global impact with my post. I’m thinking “My dog is so cute I want to die, and therefore I need the rest of the world to bear witness to his cuteness.” I’m aiming for connection, plain and simple. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When I post here, on the blog for my ghostwriting and editing business, I’m looking for a very different outcome. I’m trying to articulate my beliefs to educate and inspire, with the ultimate goal of furthering my vision for the world. I’m careful about sharing personal information and tend not to do so for the sake of connection alone. When I do share personal experiences, I use them as a tool to illustrate a point. I’m sharing about myself not simply for connection, but so people can more deeply understand the concepts I’m talking about and apply them to their own lives.
When used in this way, I actually think personal narrative is one of the most powerful tools at our fingertips.
This post is about a bad haircut, but it’s really about learning to stand up for myself and reclaim my voice. My intention is to articulate the lesson I learned so others don’t have to learn the hard way like I did, so we can each build off of each other’s life experiences rather than suffering through everything ourselves.
Now here’s where Sasha Allenby’s point comes in: I could not have written that blog right after getting the bad haircut. No way. I was too deep in it, too wrapped up in the present moment. I needed the benefit of a couple months (years) of space to process my experience and understand how it connects to the bigger picture.
I’d add a caveat to Allenby’s point: sometimes we need to share what we’ve learned before the lesson is complete, while we’re still in the messy stages. If we wait to speak up until we have all the answers, we’ll be waiting a really, really long time. I think we need to step back, give it time, and do the processing. Then when we have a workable solution, even if it’s not a perfect one, even if it’s a solution-for-now rather than a solution-forever, we can come to the table with, “Here’s what I’m working with. How about you?” That allows space for collaboration.
In order for that method to work, we need to be willing to do two things: One, be wrong. And two, allow others to be wrong.
I’m going to say that again.
If we want to truly collaborate on solutions for global evolution, we need to both be willing to be wrong and allow others the space to also be wrong.
Cancel culture isn’t doing shit for us. Yes, it’s important to hold people accountable. But if we never allow people the chance to apologize or make right what they’ve wronged, we’re doing ourselves a massive disservice because we’re creating an environment in which it’s terrifying to do or say anything. We’re boxing ourselves back into the status quo rather than creating space for exploration.
Let’s try this instead.
1) Let’s slow down and give ourselves time to process our pain and experiences. Let’s go to therapy, journal, talk to our confidants, do the deeply internal work of understanding our role in the world. Once we find a workable solution-for-now, then we can consider sharing it.
2) When it comes time to share our thoughts, let’s be cognizant of what we’re saying and how we’re saying it. Let’s take ownership for the ripple effect we want to have on the world and be exceedingly intentional about how we create it. Let’s use personal narrative as a tool for explanation.
3) Let’s create a safe(r) space for an actual conversation rich with nuance. Let’s encourage others to speak consciously and openly, gently guiding them towards a more enlightened worldview if the opportunity presents itself. Let’s model this ourselves by putting ourselves out there and inviting in constructive feedback. When we do get feedback on how we’re wrong—and we absolutely will—let’s sit with it and digest it. Let’s do our best to not fall into a defensive shame spiral but instead approach the concept with curiosity and nonjudgement.
4) Let’s rinse and repeat. Once we’ve digested this new solution, this new way of moving through the world, let’s repeat the process, inviting in ever deeper and more nuanced conversations, constantly improving our strategies based on what we’ve learned from experience and what others have shown us.
This, my friends, is how we can truly make change. Together and in humility.